Thursday, 29 May 2014

Afghans and Neenish tarts

Hi folks,

On Sunday, I ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon for the second time, beating last year's time by 1'49" and raising £350 for the Scottish Association for Mental Health.  I'm pretty chuffed with both things, and to thank my work mates for sponsoring me I decided to make them some kiwi classics: Afghan biscuits and Neenish tarts.  Both of the recipes came from a wonderful book that two dear friends gave me for a birthday a while back: Ladies, a Plate.  The book is filled with recipes from NZ's history and is written in such a warm style, with information about the history behind each recipe - I love it.  Given that NZ is a comparatively young country, and that cultures are becoming ever more global/homogeneous, this book also has a very important part to play in continuing our own little culinary quirks and nuances.

Un-iced  Afghan biscuits
The recipe for the afghans is actually available online here.  Afghans consist of a chocolate biscuit kind of like shortbread in consistency, with cornflakes through them, covered in chocolate fudge icing and finished off with a walnut half (must be fresh!).  The biscuits themselves are not particularly sweet, but the icing generally makes up for that!  Here are mine waiting to be iced.  They are usually made quite small - a little bite sized biscuit.  Which is great because the recipe feeds many, and those eating can try more than one thing!  

Finished biscuits - yum!

Neenish tarts without icing
So if Afghan biscuits are *almost* healthy, let's move swiftly on to Neenish tarts.  They are not healthy at all.  I have absolutely no idea where Neenish tarts got their name.  They are pastry cases filled with butter, sugar and vanilla, then topped with icing (so more butter, sugar and vanilla)... In NZ, the pasty cases would be made from sweet short crust pastry (hello butter, sugar and flour), but I couldn't find any and couldn't be bothered making any so mine have savoury bases.  Hopefully it will be OK.  I absolutely adored these as a child.  I was pretty chubby as it was, but after seeing what goes in them (and how often I would eat one if I could get away with it) I am actually amazed that I could see my feet.

Finished Neenish tarts
En masse - the artery clogging army of happy memories! 
Here's me after the half - I swore I would never do another (sore hamstrings really made it a mental slog this time), but once I had finished that cider and saw my time (2'17"45 a new PB and so close to my ultimate goal: 2'15), my mind did start to turn to the 31st May 2015...
BTW, we are saving money and getting rid of stuff, so I am in the process of uploading some vintage patterns to Etsy for sale.  Check them out if you're interested - various sizes and styles available.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Vogue 1028 - Blazing ahead

Hallo friends,

How is everyone (that is participating) finding Me Made May '14?  If completely honest, I haven't sewn much - my mind is a bit preoccupied with sport: training for a half marathon and supporting my husband in his training for the Caledonian Challenge; which requires walking 54 miles in 24 hours to raise money for charity.  Unreal!!

Anyway, I've been doing well at wearing and thinking MMM, but not so much with sticking to my plans (even though they were only made a week ago!!).  Oh well.  

One thing I have made recently is a blazer for work.  I'm now at the age? position? where I need to have smart yet approachable outfits for work.  There has been a distinct jacket-shaped gap in my wardrobe for a while.  So, I sewed up Vogue 1028; a "Semi-fitted, lined jacket with welt pocket, front darts, princess seams in back, three-quarter length two-piece sleeves, topstitch and ribbon trim, hook and eye closing."  I've had this pattern for ages.  And the fabric actually - I bought it from Goldhawk Road in December 2012 for £5 a metre.  It is lined with silk which means it feels so lovely on the skin.

So, for the photos!  Here is the Back, Front and the Pockets in use:

The pockets are tiny - about the size of a matchbox or bank card - so they are good for attaching a work security pass and holding some business cards.  

I omitted the trimmings so the jacket doesn't close - without hands - which takes a little getting used to.  I feel a little bit like one of my teachers, but that will pass as I get used to wearing this kind of thing I'm sure.  It's pretty useful, so that should happen fairly quickly.

I've styled it for work here (in fact these photos were taken after a day at work), but I've worn it casually with a denim skirt and striped t-shirt as well.

The top-stitching on this jacket is fun - along the sleeve hems, all of the darts, the pockets and the sleeveheads.  I also like the length of the sleeves - it's such a useful and yet elegant length.  I'm not totally sold on the width of the jacket (it's a little boxy for my liking), but that is the style.  

There are three tricky elements to getting a nice finish on this jacket - the top-stitching, the neckline edge and the pockets.  The neckline edge requires a circular seam to be sewn connecting the outer to the facing.  This gets quite thick in parts, and care needs to be taken when cutting notches so that the line doesn't get angular.  The top-stitching needs to be a consistent width and length - use something as a guide (the edge of your presser foot for instance) and stick with it.  The pockets are welt pockets.  The instructions are clear, so just use interfacing, mark well and take your time.  Practice on a scrap if this is the first one you've made -  there is no going back if something goes horribly wrong!

The pattern is true to size and the instructions are clear.  So if you're in the market for a simple blazer - I'd say go for it!


Thursday, 8 May 2014

From Humble Beginnings

I'm currently reading a book called "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth Cline, which came out in 2012.  It's a bit like a drunken chat with a good friend, in that it could do with a good edit, but some of it is thought provoking.  It's a very good read on the bus in that it's in bite site pieces.

One interesting, unexpected side effect from the ol' RTW fast I'm on this year is that I seem to be thinking more about my existing clothes too.  So anyway, I went through my wardrobe and cleared out all the clothes I don't like, don't wear, don't fit, don't make me feel Ah-maze-bawls dahlink.  Liberating.

One such thing was this cardie that has been in my wardrobe for a while now.  It's cosy and soft, but long and too big and generally not flattering on me.  Exhibit A and B, below.

I wanted to keep the sleeves and hem band because these things make it look decent and not dodgey/homemade (as opposed to bespoke).  So, I simply cut off the two fronts t the shoulder and side seams.  Hey presto, flasher.  In fact, come to think about it, I look a bit like a flasher in the top photos... whoops, unintentional.

I shortened the cardie by folding up the extra and sewing a seam along the (existing) ribbing hem which meant that it was a secret, invisible seam.  Then, I laid out some silk and lace to make a new front.  It was about as technical as that.  I used the scalloped edge of the lace to be the hem and double hemmed the silk to make sure that the hem was at the highest point of the scallop.  

So here's the new, shorter length, shown below with the "has the camera remote worked" pose. 
To get a nice finish on the inside for the side seams , I sandwiched the cardie layer in between the lace and silk, and then turned it inside out through the neck (which I left open).  The side seams were sewn up as far as the underarm seam, then I pinned the should edges to the shoulder seams and then the sleeves were sewn to the lace.  I had to put some tucks in so that they would fit, but it works well with the design. 

The photo above also shows the lace in a little more detail - it is fine gauge net based lace, with gold threads in a few places.  Of course, the lace and silk aren't stretchy, so I made an opening on one shoulder seam, which is closed with snaps (one of them is left open on the photo below).  

And here is the finished article, and my smug face (and actually, with my blouse hanging out the bottom! not so smug now!!).
It's decidedly more me than before, and so it gets worn much more than the original version.  This took less than half a metre of nice material to make this top into something I wear all the time - you only need enough to go around half of you.  Might be worth considering before putting anything in the charity bag.

Rachel J

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Modifying Maisie - Part Two (and MMM'14 Pledge!)

Hi Folks,
So, are you ready for the next instalment of Modifying Maisie?  Good, let's get started then.

Upon completing my bodice section, I needed to try it on myself over standard underwear – no bullet bras or padded hipped knickers that day!  I inserted a lapped zip for ease, making sure that the teeth were in the right spot to allow the centre fronts to meet at the right location (i.e. the 1.5 cm seam line).
Normally, when these shells are used to make a sloper, you need to remember to include ease.  I got a bit confused about my aim along the way, as we’ll come to later.  Anyway, for my exercise – to make Maisie closer to my size and quirks – I needed to ensure that the fit was skin tight.  I wondered about the merits of taking photos of this whole exercise at various points, but ultimately decided against it – no value to you guys and not something I need on the internet for perpetuity! 

Upon trying the bodice shell on, the directions direct one through various check points, until all major fitting areas have been considered and revised (where relevant).  For me, this meant letting out the side seams, squaring off the shoulders and reducing the width of the shoulders.  It’s funny, because I went into this thinking that I would probably have to make a wide back adjustment, but I didn’t.  Also, my waist is quite defined (more than 20 cm less than my bust or hip measurements), so I didn’t expect to have to let the side seams out – women that are more straight through the middle must have to let those out a lot. 

I could have predicted the changes required to the shoulders if I had really thought about them – I sit up quite straight (= square shoulder change) and I find that blouses fitted through the shoulder are more flattering than ones that are looser there (and fit in other areas).

The sleeves are attached to the bodice once it’s perfect and then various things are considered there too.  I had to make two changes: raise the sleeve heads quite a lot (using all of the excess) and lengthen the sleeves below the elbow.

Then it was time to move on to the skirt.  That was straightforward for me – I just had to let the side seams out by 0.5 cm.  Ha ha, “just”.  There may have been a little bit of sulking at that, before I decided to make a cuppa and have a couple of biscuits…

Then comes the time of connecting the two together, thus forming a shell.
Making the Pattern Reflect Me
So, in summary, the changes I made were:
  • Let bodice side seams out by varying amounts: tapering from nothing at the armpit to 1 cm - 2 cm at the waist (each side, each piece)
  • Reduce the width of the shoulders
  • Lower the shoulder seam by 0.5 cm (tapering to nothing at the collar) and change the sleeve curve the equivalent amount to allow for square shoulders
  • Increase ease in bicep by 1 cm
  • Increase height of sleeve head by 2.5 cm
  • Let skirt side seams out by 0.5 cm
All of these changes have been made to the pattern pieces, which now represent my ‘Sloper’.    The changes to the bodice outlined above are highlighted by the green lines on the photo below.  The only problem I've encountered so far is that the sleeves incorporate ease (too much in parts) whereas the bodice and skirt do not.  I forgot what I was hoping to achieve... Whoops.  I should re-do the sleeve really.

The only thing that has frustrated me in all of this is that when I went to connect the bodice to the skirt they weren’t a perfect match – the skirt was slightly wider than the bodice.  It makes sense because they were let out different amounts, but I don't understand why they were - I thought they would need the exact same changes and then would fit together perfectly!

Here is the finished bodice on Maisie, dialled out to my measurements underneath – it’s a good illustration of how the two don’t equal the same thing.

Up next I’d like to make a heavy cotton version to use as an actual cover for Maisie, once I’ve reduced her measurements and wrapped her up in batting.  She is going to be snug as a bug in a rug!

Me Made May 2014
Have you signed up for Me Made May 2014 (MMM’14)?  I have watched other people’s efforts with awe over the years, being both inspired and too scared to join in.  I wear clothes I’ve made the vast proportion of the time, particularly with the RTW fast this year, so I’ve decided not to sign up to that kind of the pledge.  However, something that Zoe suggested really struck a chord with me – using MMM’14 to finish off the unfinished objects (“UFOs” – ha, ha!) that have been hovering unfinished for a while (paraphrased!).  I’m extending that to mean UFOs that are either cut out or have been in my mind for ages.  Essentially, for me and my pledge that means I shall:
  • Finish Modifying Maisie;
  • Finish my cardigan jacket – it’s only been in progress for a about a year now!;
  • Make my winter coat - which was originally going to be a cape, and for which I’ve had woollen fabric in my closet for probably 3 winters now; it will be moth eaten if I don’t look out!;
  • Make my chambray skirt and blouse combo - because I really want to have them to wear this summer; and
  • Make up the 1980s dress.

Given that I have a formal outfit to make in May as well (and a half marathon to train for and run!), I think that will be more than enough of a challenge for me!  In fact, maybe it’s too much – I’ll remove the 1980s dress.  So, without further ado:

“I, Rachel C.T., sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '14. I endeavour to complete my three UFOs (cardigan jacket, winter coat, and chambray skirt/blouse combo) by the end of May 2014”.

Phew.  Feels just the right mix of nerve-wracking and exciting to make me think it is pitched at just the right level for me.  I particularly love that component of Zoe’s call to arms actually – that we should focus on what would be a challenge for ourselves, rather than doing the same as others (if that doesn’t actually suit your own circumstances).  Isn’t it so enabling.

Good luck to everyone else who is doing it too!

Rachel J